There are over 200 government grants available to businesses in the UK. Grants can be an attractive option, because they don’t always require repayments or equity stakes in return for funding. The eighth in our series of ‘Essential business tips’ looks at how to find the right grant for your business.
Tip 1 - Research your grant options
Be bold - There are a wide range of grants available for projects that involve significant innovation – think disruptive innovation not incremental.
- Paula Rogers-Brown, National Venturefest Network Manager
Start by looking at the different types of grant available. Gov.uk has a comprehensive list of government grants in the UK, whether you’re a start-up or an established business, and you can view options by industry type.
Take a look at the local and regional opportunities as well as national – some funding is specific to geographical areas like the North West of England or the Midlands, for example, while other grants apply only to businesses in Wales or Northern Ireland.
Some sectors attract more support than others. There’s an increasingly wide range of grants in manufacturing, and some great opportunities for tech businesses. Research and development activity is well funded, as are export projects and those that support the local community, transport or energy and environment.
You may be eligible for the Regional Growth Fund (RGF) programme. These are schemes run by national or local organisations that have been awarded RGF cash, including universities, chambers of commerce, local authorities and private companies, to offer grants and/or loans to eligible businesses. RGF programmes are ideal if you want to strengthen or grow your business, create or protect jobs, but are unable to find funding elsewhere.
Tip 2 - Make sure you are eligible
Read the documentation fully and familiarise yourself with the scope and eligibility criteria.
- Richard Awbery - Customer Support Executive, Innovate UK
Once you’ve found the grant you want, it’s important to check that you are eligible. Grant applications usually have conditions to attract specific projects, so make sure you fit the scope before spending time and resources on applying.
To confirm eligibility, you’ll need details like your business size and type, whether you have any funding currently in place, why you want the grant (for example, is it for essential office equipment or new product development?), and the industry you operate in.
You’ll also need an appreciation of the process – particularly when it comes to the time-frame involved.
Be aware, too, that some grants will look to match the amount you’re willing to invest, particularly if you’re seeking £10,000 or more, so you may need some funds in place in order to qualify.
Tip 3 - Prepare fully before applying
Preparation at the bid stage really pays off, greatly improving the chances of success at the assessment stage and throughout the project.
- David Elson – Innovation Lead, Innovate UK
Make your application count by ensuring you’ve done all the necessary preparation.
Before you seek any start-up funding, it’s vital to have a solid business plan, with realistic sales projections, cash flow and profit and loss forecasts. Tailor your business plan for the specific grant you’re applying for, just as you would tailor your CV for a job application. If you are already trading, you will also be asked for evidence of your financial situation, including business bank account statements.
Make your application stand out by demonstrating a thorough knowledge of your product or service, your market and the potential you can see if your funding application is successful. What will success look like? Be specific.
Remember that some grants are time-limited, so apply as soon as you can to ensure you get a share of the available funding before it runs out.
Tip 4 - Explore possible alternatives to grants
Look for loans that are unsecured, so there’s no need to put forward any assets or guarantors to support an application.
- David English, Chief Marketing Officer, Startup Loans Company
If a grant isn’t the right option for you, don’t worry – there are lots of alternatives. ‘Soft’ loans, which are similar to grants, are loans with lower interest rates and more generous terms than other lending options. Usually government-backed, they offer loans of up to £25,000 with a low interest rate and access to free business support and mentoring and often only need paying back once you start to make a profit.
Companies that want to export should look at the opportunities available through UK Export Finance, which offers a range of financing terms for companies looking to sell overseas, as well as independent business development and finance advice.
There are some good opportunities for younger entrepreneurs too. If you’re aged between 18 and 30, the Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme might be a good way to find the funding and support you need.
If you are interested in finding out more about soft loans and other business funding, the StartUp Loans website is a great place to begin, or go to Gov.uk’s finance finder. You may also be eligible to access resources, skills and business advice or qualify for support through tax schemes and other capital allowances.
Finding out how other businesses approached funding can be helpful, and SME website smallbusiness.co.uk has plenty of case studies on how the right funding can kick-start a company’s growth. You’ll find tips on what you can do to help ensure you succeed, as well as how to manage your expectations – particularly when it comes to the amount of work you’ll need to put into your application.
With the right combination of research, planning and determination, there’s every chance you’ll find a grant or suitable alternative to help you develop your business idea or grow your company.
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